Search for a stranger over hero PCSO's murder in Kent woodland

Search for a stranger over hero PCSO’s murder: Police urge public to be vigilant as they probe whether mother-of-two, 53, was victim of random attacker while walking her Jack Russell on secluded pathway in Kent

  • Detectives working on theory that Julia James, who suffered head injuries, may have been killed by stranger
  • Kent Police were called to Snowdown, near Dover, at around 4pm on Tuesday to reports of a body found
  • Officers have confirmed body of Ms James, a serving PCSO for Kent Police, was found near to Akholt Wood
  • Detectives have launched a murder investigation and neighbours claim her Jack Russell was found with body
  • No arrests have been made and PCSO’s family are being looked after by police family liaison officers 

Julia James, a serving PCSO for Kent Police, was found dead on a secluded footpath in Snowdown, near Dover, yesterday

Detectives fear a random attacker may have murdered a PCSO who was beaten around the head as she walked her dog in woodland near her Kent home with the suspect still on the loose, it was revealed today.

The public in Snowdown, near Dover, have been urged to be vigilant Julia James, 53, who had worked for the police for nearly 15 years and had been commended for bravery for chasing a shoplifter, was found dead with serious head injuries.

The mother-of-two’s Jack Russell terrier stayed with her body until it was found lying on a path at the edge of a field in Akholt Woo on Tuesday afternoon at 4pm. She was last seen by a neighbour leaving the house an hour earlier.

Her ex-partner also suggested that her work in Kent Police’s domestic violence unit is also being looked at in case she was attacked by someone with a vendetta. 

The case has chilling echoes of one of Britain’s most notorious murders, which took place in the neighbouring village of of Chillenden, Kent, 25 years ago, where Dr Lin Russell, 45, and her daughter Megan, six, were  bludgeoned to death with a hammer as they walked their family dog. Nine-year-old Josie Russell suffered horrific injuries but made a full recovery. 

Michael Stone was jailed for life for two counts of murder and one count of attempted murder, but still protests his innocence, claiming that serial killer Levi Bellfield did it. 

Ms James’ ex-partner has revealed how their devastated son broke the news of her death to her family.   

Her former partner told MailOnline last night how their son rang him to break the news of Mrs James’s death.

Wayne Davis, who was with Mrs James for 13 years before their split in 2009, had earlier in the day texted son Patrick a Facebook link about a woman being found dead on a local path.

He asked Patrick if he knew what was going on and his son messaged back that he did not but said there was a ‘load of police’ around the village.

However, when Patrick returned to the home he shares with his girlfriend hours later in Dover he was told the awful news and rang Mr Davis in tears to say ‘that woman is mum’. 

As Kent Police investigate the murder of one of their own, it also emerged today:

  • Detectives piece together Julia James final movements in the hour before she was murdered after leaving her home with her dog. She is believed to have been working from home and just finished for the day;

The body of Mrs James was found just two fields from her home in Snowdown, Kent, yesterday afternoon

Nearby fields remain sealed off today and a police tent can be seen on a path that runs between a field and woodland

Teams of police officers search for clues in woodland close to where the PCSO was found dead on Tuesday

Julia, pictured with her hypnotherapist husband Paul, worked in the Kent Police domestic violence team and had been commended for bravery after chasing a  shoplifter in her 15 year police career

Mr Davis said: ‘He’s only 23-years old and he’s lost his mum. He is absolutely devastated. I remember what it was like when I lost my mother and I knew it was going to happen because she’d been ill. I can’t imagine what he’s going through.

‘We don’t know any more about what’s happened other than it looks like Julia was walking the dog at the time. We don’t know if it’s a random attack or whether she was targeted by someone, possibly because of her job.  

Mrs James’s ex-partner Wayne Davis revealed how their son Patrick broke the news of her death to their family

‘She was a lovely, cheerful person. Always happy and smiling. The last time I saw Julia was in 2017. My mother was ill and was too poorly to pick up her prescription. I’d gone to the local chemist and Julia shouted out my name in the car park and we had a catch-up.

‘She told me that she’d started working at Canterbury police station on domestic violence. I joked to her ‘what? Giving it out?’ and she laughed.

‘I probably wouldn’t have been able to get away with that when we were together but she was a really friendly person who had a big caring side. She always had our son’s best interests at heart.

‘Whoever has done this needs to be arrested as soon as possible because we don’t know if it’ll happen again. A lot of people walk their dogs down that path, many of them alone.’ 

He later told the Sun: ‘He [Patrick] was devastated. Julia was the love of my life, but we separated, as couples sometimes do.

‘She was a lovely woman. She was walking her dog a lot. What she did as a PCSO was not just a job – it was a way of life.’

‘What I personally find odd, is it’s happened in the middle of nowhere,’ he said. It’s a mystery. The police know more than what they’re saying – they want to catch who has done it.

‘For something like that to happen, in the middle of nowhere – you don’t know whether it’s just random.’

Mr Davis added: ‘It immediately reminded me of what happened with Lin and Megan Russell in Chillenden, which is just 2.5miles away.’

The path where Mrs James body was found is just two and a half miles from Cherry Garden Lane in the neighbouring village of Chillenden, Kent, where Lin Russell was murdered alongside her daughter Megan in July 1996.

Michael Stone, who was later convicted of the double murder, also left Dr Russell’s nine-year-old daughter Josie fighting for life in the attack. 

Stone attacked the family as they walked their dogs in the surrounding countryside. 

Several police vehicles arrived in Snowdown today and forensics teams were seen working close to the bridal path on which Mrs James’s body was found. No arrests have been made in the case.

It is understood Mrs James’s family are being looked after by police family liaison officers. Her daughter is also thought to work with Kent Police.

Sean Simmonds, who lives opposite the semi-detached, three-bedroom home Mrs James shares with her husband Paul, said he saw her leave the house to walk her dog at 3pm yesterday but did not see her return. 

She was found dead an hour later on a bridleway on the edge of Ackholt Wood and fields off the Aylesham Road area of Snowdown, a former coal mining town close to Dover.

It is understood Mrs James had been working from home and had taken her dog out for a walk afterwards.  

Mr Simmonds, 57, said he was told by police that the small dog ‘stayed with’ Mrs James following her death and was found alongside the grandmother’s body. 

He said: ‘I was polishing my car on the driveway and I looked up and saw Julia walking past on the other side of the road with the dog.

‘She was heading towards the woods at the back, I’d occasionally bump into her there when I was out walking my two dogs. I didn’t see her come back. Around 4pm, the police arrived and started cordoning off the area.’  

Neighbours said Mrs James regularly exercised her dog along the country footpaths near to her home, which is on a 1930s miners’ housing estate in the hamlet.  

 Julia James (pictured), a serving PCSO for Kent Police, was found dead near woodland in Kent yesterday afternoon

The body of Mrs James (pictured left and right with a dog believed to be her Jack Russell), 53, was found near to Akholt Wood in Snowdown, near Aylesham, Kent, shortly after 4pm on Tuesday 

Murdered PCSO Julia James with her current husband Paul. Her son broke the news of her death to her family

A friend of Mrs James’ son Patrick Davis said today: ‘Patrick is devastated as you can imagine. His mum was such a lovely person, I cannot imagine who would want to do her any harm.

‘I know she worked as a PCSO and helped victims of domestic violence.

‘Patrick has thanked friends for their support and kind words but he just needs time to himself at the moment.’

Neighbour Mr Simmonds added: ‘I’m a paramedic and I work in the emergency services so I knew by the amount of police it was for something serious. We found out just how serious a while later, it’s such a shock. 

‘I used to talk to her about her job quite a bit, she said she was a PCSO who was mainly office and worked with victims of domestic violence. She liked her job very much. 

‘She was always quite upbeat and cheerful. When we did stop to chat it tended to be about our work because we both work for the emergency services so there was some common ground. I know she had worked from home mainly over the last year or so because of the pandemic.’

It remains unclear how Mrs James died, but a post mortem is due to be held to establish her cause of death. 

Home Secretary Priti Patel has offered her condolences to the family of PCSO James. She tweeted: ‘So saddened to hear of the death of @kent-police PCSO Julia James. I offer my sincere condolences to Julia’s friends, family and colleagues at this awful time.’

Assistant Chief Constable Tom Richards said: ‘Officers are carrying out a number of lines of enquiry to establish the circumstances and people in the Snowdown area will see an increased police presence as a result.

‘It saddens me to confirm that the victim was a serving PCSO for Kent Police and whilst there is a full and thorough investigation underway our thoughts also remain with her family, friends and colleagues.’     

He added: ‘It is vitally important that anyone who was in the area on Monday and Tuesday who may have seen something suspicious gets in touch with us.

‘We’re particularly keen to speak to those who regularly visit the area who may have seen something out of place and those who drove by who have dash-cam footage.

‘We would advise anyone in the area to remain vigilant until the full circumstances of the death are established.’    

National Police Federation chair John Apter said: ‘Police have launched a murder investigation after ⁦@kent_police⁩ PCSO Julia James was found dead in remote Snowdown woods. 

‘My heart goes out to Julia’s family, friend and her colleagues. This is devastating news.’ 

It is understood Mrs James became a police community support officer in 2007, joining from a Kent County Council learning resource centre.

After becoming a PCSO for Tenterden in 2013, she told a local paper: ‘I am a people person and love being in the community. The people in Tenterden are very friendly.’

She has two children – a daughter who also works for the police and a 23-year-old son – as well as an infant grandson.  

Devastated locals say the community, comprised of roughly 54 houses and part of the civil parish of Aylesham, has been left ‘shocked’ and ‘reeling’ following her death. 

Forensic officers today arrived at the entrance to a path near where the body of Ms James was found on Tuesday

Police officers in Aylesham, Kent, begin a murder investigation today following the death of Mrs James

The woman (above), who had worked as a PCSO for Kent Police since 2007, was pronounced dead at the scene

Pictured: Mrs James with her husband Paul, who married in June 2017 and have lived in Snowdown for around four years

Officers were photographed searching bushes near the bridleway in Kent amid the major investigation this afternoon

Forensic teams were also on the scene today as a police investigation got underway following the unexplained death

Police vehicles are seen near to a caravan park in Snowdown, Aylesham, Kent, today

Leah Southwell, 18, said: ‘She was so happy. So bubbly, if you were having a bad day she’d be there smiling at you and trying to make you laugh.’

The teenager described how the area was ‘swarmed with police’ after the body was discovered.

She said: ‘Last night about 10pm, I looked out my window and there were sirens, blue lights all down my road.

‘At around 4pm-ish there were two vans, a little van and a squad car, and there was a fire engine as well.

‘Nothing ever happens around here. It’s just shocking to be honest.’   

Another neighbour said: ‘I can’t believe it. She was a loving mum and the pillar of the community. This is devastating. She was a lovely woman. A terrific part of the community.’

Locals say the community, comprised of 54 houses and part of the village of Aylesham, has been left ‘shocked’ and ‘reeling’

Police forensic officers search a field close to where the body of Ms James was found near Aylesham Road, Snowdown, Kent

Kent Police was appealing for any witnesses to come forward as an investigation continued today

Officers are seen outside a home in Snowdown, Kent, today following the death of married mother-of-two Mrs James

Paramedic Sean Simmonds, 57, who lives on the same street as Mrs James, said he only saw the mother-of-two walking her Jack Russell a few days ago.

He said: ‘I can’t believe it. She usually walks her dogs in the fields, a little Jack Russell. That hasn’t been seen either.

‘It’s a such a shame.’ 

Mary Bowden, 71, added Mrs James kept herself to herself but seemed nice.

She said: ‘She was a very quiet, nice lady, very inoffensive. I often used to see her walking her dogs.

‘Nothing happens around here usually. She was just a quiet, lovely lady.’ 

 Kent Police today launched a murder investigation in the wake of the unexplained death, which is understood to have taken place yesterday afternoon as the married mother-of-two walked her dog

Kent Police earlier confirmed the body was that of a serving PCSO. No arrests have been made in the case

After Kent Police today confirmed the body found was that of Mrs James, friends have rushed to pay tribute to the popular PCSO online.

One friend commented: ‘Julia was one of the nicest people you could ever wish to meet. Rest in peace, dear friend.

‘She had a great sense of humour. I have fond memories of the time we worked together. Absolutely gutted for her family.’

Another added: ‘She was such a lovely warm friendly lady who enjoyed a bit of fun and loved her family.

‘We had planned drinks in the garden when the weather was warmer. I shall raise a glass to her. Absolutely gutted.’

A third said: ‘She was such a beautiful person inside and out with a good heart.’

And a fourth added: ‘Absolutely devastating news. It was a pleasure to have known and worked with Julia.’

Linda Keen, councillor for Aylesham, Eythorne and Shepherdswell, said: ‘It’s absolutely dreadful news and a tragedy for the woman, her family and the local community who must be in shock. 

‘This sort of incident is very atypical for Aylesham and doesn’t really happen here.

‘I’m sure the police will do absolutely everything they can to establish what has happened.’  

Fellow Dover District Councillor for the ward Peter Walker said: ‘Police have a large cordon in place and continue to search after the woman’s body was found. 

‘It seems very serious.

‘It is a tragedy for the locals and will shock this usually peaceful community without a shadow of a doubt. This kind of thing doesn’t happen here.’ 

Charles Woodgate, who also represents Aylesham, Eythorne and Shepherdswell, said: ‘It’s a young woman who was sadly found dead yesterday afternoon.

‘This is a tragedy and a terrible thing to happen here.’

Police rushed to a Kent hamlet last night after a woman was found dead near to a secluded footpath

 It remains unclear how Mrs James died, but a post mortem is due to be held to establish her cause of death

Photographs from the scene show forensics teams in attendance, alongside several police vehicles 

Aylesham Parish Council chair Mark Townsend added: ‘It’s a tragedy that the community is reeling from.’       

Kent Fire and Rescue confirmed a fire engine had been in attendance at the scene some two hours after police arrived, but would not confirm the reason for this.     

The South East Coast Ambulance Service also attended and pronounced the serving PCSO dead in the woodland.

A spokesman said: ‘I can confirm we attended the scene and that sadly a woman was pronounced dead at the scene.’ 

It is understood a heavy police presence remained at the scene late into last night

Witnesses said a footpath was taped off during the incident. Pictured: Police at the scene

Road closures were in place as officers investigated the death last night.   

Kent Fire and Rescue added: ‘Kent Fire and Rescue Service was called at 18.22 to assist Kent Police in Aylesham Road, in Snowdown, Dover. 

‘One fire engine attended.’    

Kent Police are keen to speak to anyone in the area on Monday or Tuesday who may have seen something unusual or suspicious.

Anyone with information should call 0800 0514526 or can submit video footage online.

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